The Maple Leaf could be on frequent display above the medals podium at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Canada heads to South Korea with the strongest overall figure skating team and with medal contenders in all four individual events. That’s well ahead of expectations for the United States, which would be doing well to win three medals at the Winter Games.
For the Canadians, 2010 champions and 2014 runners-up Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are positioned to add more prizes to their ice dance collection. Meghan Duhamel and Eric Radford are in the mix in pairs, Patrick Chan will try to make his final Olympics more memorable than his previous visits in a wide open men’s field, and Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman should challenge in the women’s event.
“Canada is strong in all four disciplines,” said Brian Orser, who trains Daleman as well as defending men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and two-time world champ Javier Fernandez of Spain. “Especially in the last four years, our two ladies have really risen to top, and that is exciting.
“They have the biggest team, I know that, and one of the strongest,” Orser said. “They will be in contention with that team of Russian skaters.”
The Russians, of course, will not be representing their country after the Sochi doping scandal led to sanctions against the nation by the IOC. But they will be on hand, skating under the Olympic flag, and are expected to be quite representative, particularly in ladies and pairs.
For the Americans, Nathan Chen and his five-quad free skate could be the biggest story of these games. Chen likely is the only gold medal candidate for the U.S., though his nation also has a chance to win a medal in the team competition after taking bronze in Sochi.
“The results are not up to me,” the 18-year-old Chen said. “When I am doing things the right way, I am healthy, and I clean up mistakes, I think it is possible to win. It’s important not to let any distractions get into your head. Enjoy it all, enjoy the process, and that’s usually when I skate my best.”
A look at the names to watch in the four individual figure skating events at Pyeongchang:
Ladies’ skating preview:
This seemed to be the province of Yevgenia Medvedeva, the Russian dynamo who won the last two world titles and was undefeated since 2015. But in her final major competition before Pyeongchang, she lost to 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova at the European Championships. In Moscow, no less.
Zagitova’s technical brilliance could make her the front-runner at the Olympics, but Medvedeva’s track record is so impressive that she deserves top billing.
Sochi bronze winner Carolina Kostner of Italy, the veteran of the field who turns 31 the day before the opening ceremony, will need to showcase her elegance in the absence of jumping ability.
Daleman upset Osmond at the Canadian championships and both will be in medal consideration, along along with Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto. The best shot for the U.S. could be nationals runner-up Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth in Vancouver and whose triple Axel is the wild card.
Men’s skating preview:
Chen has raised the jumping bar so high with his collection of quads that if he skates cleanly, his technical marks are good enough to join the likes of Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Evan Lysacek as Olympic gold medalist from the U.S.
“Nathan technically would have so many points with the five quads he could miss a triple axel and still win,” said Indianapolis-based skating coach and former Olympian Marie Millikan. “His expression and artistry have improved so much in the last year, and he can do so much more technically than anyone.”
His main challengers figure to be Fernandez, fresh off his sixth European title, and Hanyu, the Japanese star who has been hampered by an ankle ligament injury and only recently got back to training.
“He is a focused athlete, so I hope he starts gearing up for the Pyeongchang Olympics,” said Yoshiko Kobayashi of the Japanese skating federation.
Japan’s Shoma Uno also is stout. Chan could be in the mix. And two other Americans, Adam Rippon and 17-year-old Vincent Zhou, will aim for the top 10.
Ice dance preview:
Virtue and Moir could stamp themselves as the most accomplished duo in Olympic annals with another gold medal. They’ve taken sabbaticals and returned just as innovative and mesmerizing.
As in 2014, when they barely lost to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Canadians face formidable foes in France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Virtue and Moir edged them at the 2017 worlds, only to see the French win the Grand Prix Final in December.
U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, and veterans Madison Chock and Evan Bates also will contend. The Shibutanis are world bronze medalists.
Pairs’ skating preview:
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are world champions, and their athleticism is stunning.
“They can do side-by-side triples in combination if they need to,” Millikan said.
They might need to considering a loaded field includes Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot; China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao; Duhamel and Radford; Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; and teammates Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim of the U.S. will seek the top 10.